A Brit’s-eye view of America’s favorite card game.
Until the World Series of Poker came to widespread prominence two decades ago, few thought of poker as anything other than a good excuse to smoke cigars with their pals. But once Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan became international celebrities, poker became hip—or at least part of the mainstream. That, combined with the popularity of narrative nonfiction, meant it was only a matter of time before somebody took a shot at putting together a definitive history of poker. Interesting, then, that it would be a British scribe who decided to write in-depth about a game that is so uniquely American. London-based journalist Wilson (Swimming with the Devil Fish, 2007) is an unabashed poker connoisseur, and his unforced excitement moves the narrative along at a brisk clip. Chronicling poker’s roots in Deadwood, S.D., the meteoric rise of the aforementioned World Series, the current omnipresence of online gambling and the exciting atmosphere in modern-day Las Vegas, Wilson delivers plenty of facts, figures and insights, all the while imparting a healthy amount of historical and cultural context. He puts himself in the story, a technique that for the most part works nicely, most notably during the lengthy sections on Brunson and old-school poker hero Benny Binion. The inherent problem with a poker book, even one as enthusiastic and detailed as this one, is the same inherent problem with watching poker on television: Unless you’re a hardcore aficionado, things get a tad repetitive.
Will have card sharks chomping at the bit, but casual players may remain content with the Tuesday night game at their buddy’s.